Pollution solutions, not Godzilla

30 October 2018

Leading scientists recently met in South Korea to finalise a much-publicised report on climate change. They outlined that to stand a decent chance of dealing with our changing weather conditions, carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45% within the next twelve years.

When talking about climate change, it’s common to hear language that makes warming seem like a man-made problem that is insurmountable. Too often, the apocalyptic stories told about climate change are akin to Godzilla, or Frankenstein: a monster created by humans which then runs amok, causing destruction.

That’s not the right story. Instead, we need to talk about solutions, with hope and optimism.

Buildings pump out climate changing pollution throughout their lifecycle, from the production of building materials, to building processes, during the operating of a building, its maintenance, and right through to its disposal.

This means that, when Kiwis beat climate change, we will not have done it without tackling the pollution from our buildings, and talking about the solutions.

As New Zealanders, and as members of the construction and building industry, we can lead the way by talking about solutions and “hero-ing” those solutions that we know already exist. The characters in our climate change stories shouldn’t be the monsters such as Godzilla or Frankenstein, but the superstars such as the brilliant solutions in certified buildings you (our members) are delivering to Green Star, NABERSNZ and Homestar standards.

We were asked recently by five Ministers to set out and help deliver a low carbon strategy for the built environment. There are three pillars to the strategy. These pillars are, firstly, an improved Building Code, secondly, support for the market to drive change, and thirdly, the government taking a lead, and walking the talk.

Firstly, we all know that the Building Code is cringingly substandard. Improving the Code in increments, over 15 years, will allow the market to adapt, improve health, bring New Zealand into line with the standards of other OECD countries, and improve community resilience to climate change. Making all buildings healthy will result in low carbon buildings.

The second pillar is about empowering people, the market, to drive change by being able to understand clearly and transparently how healthy buildings or homes are making it easier to demand better quality. Green building authentication, verification and labelling is about equipping New Zealanders with the knowledge of how healthy and green a building is – whether it be for first home buyers who have just entered the KiwiBuild ballot, or a business owner who is hoping to tenant an office block.

And the third pillar is about government taking a lead, both on KiwiBuild homes and on the buildings they build and tenant. More than 20,000 homes are being built to Homestar. Building KiwiBuild homes to this proven, industry-accepted standard has health benefits, reduces construction waste and flood damage, and requires less energy to heat. It saves Kiwi families more than $100million every year, including 28,000 tonnes of carbon, 8 billion litres of water and 300,000 tonnes of water use.

As for the government’s own buildings, ensuring they are built to healthy, sustainable standards are good for their employees, good for the taxpayer and good for Aotearoa. They can evidence this with Green Star New Construction for new buildings, Green Star interiors for fitouts and Green Star Performance for any existing buildings. Government wants less waste and a lower carbon, more water efficient future. They want healthy, productive employees. Certified green buildings will deliver this.

Together, this three-pillar solution will deliver healthier, better, more efficient homes and work places. It will mean less hydro power stations are needed and save kiwi families and tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars.

So, there you go. A strategy for the built environment. People often ask, “What can I do?” Well if you are working on fitouts or new buildings, encourage the client to gain green certification. Each new rating encourages others to rate. If you work in a building, ask your landlord what the Green Star Performance rating is for your building.

We now have ratings for any new and existing building. We have a monumental challenge facing us.

The movement is gathering pace to take on the challenge. Each additional hand to the wheel helps project us forward. I welcome your input, your support, your passion. Now is the time for change.

Ko te mahi hei huinga ka hinga! Working altogether we will conquer!

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